More than one million people were exposed over three decades to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville. Victims suffering from birth defects and cancers will now have free health care thanks to federal legislation passed in congress this week and thanks to a veteran who refused to give up.
Janey Ensminger died in 1987 at age 9 from a rare form of Leukemia. Her father, Jerry Ensminger was suspicious that something at Camp Lejeune was responsible, but couldn't prove it. Then, a decade later he was sitting down for dinner when he saw a TV report that linked Camp Lejeune's water to health problems.
He tells the story: "And they said that the chemicals that had been found in Camp Lejeune's drinking water were possibly linked to childhood cancer, primarily in leukima. So I dropped my spaghetti right there on the living room floor."
By then Ensminger was retired from the Marine Corps. He and a fellow veteran filed over 1,000 Freedom Of Information Act requests seeking military studies of the water. They more they dug, the more it looked like the Marine Corps was hiding information about toxins in the water. Their activism led to studies that connected contaminated water to several ailments including the cancer that killed Janey Ensminger. T
he bill that passed congress this week is named in her honor. It provides free health care to Marines, veterans and family members suffering from illness related to the water contamination. Jerry Ensminger says, "The most difficult thing we had was getting the truth out of the Department of the Navy and United States Marine Corps. I hate to say that, because I am a retired Marine and I'm very proud of the Marines."
To qualify for the health care, people must have lived there between 1957 and 1987 and suffer from one of several conditions listed in the legislation. But Ensminger says his fight isn't over. He says the bill needs to cover more illnesses. And he says reparations are needed for families of former Camp Lejeune residents who have already died from those illnesses.